A new mixed-use tower slated for a growing section of Downtown Los Angeles designed by Australian firm Koichi Takada Architects could rise as high as 70 stories, new renderings reveal. Urbanize.LA reported that Australian developer Crown Group had previously submitted plans for a 52-story tower with 528 residential units and ground-floor commercial spaces for the site. The taller iteration of the project was first reported by ComercialRealEstate.com, but it is unclear how many housing units will be included in the revised scheme. New renderings for the so-called Sky Trees LA project showcase a grouping of thin, rounded towers of various heights capped by arched profiles and tree-lined rooftop terraces. Inspired by California’s redwood trees, the clustered towers will come wrapped in natural materials, including timber mullions. Along the street, a wavy wooden awning that is reportedly inspired by the billowing forms of Marilyn Monroe’s wind-swept dress in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch will provide shade for pedestrians. (Nevermind that the iconic scene took place above a subway vent on Lexington Avenue in New York City.) Architect Koichi Takada told ComercialRealEstate.com that the design of the canopy aims “to challenge L.A. to become a more walkable city” while also creating yet another “Instagram moment” for Downtown Los Angeles. The project is one of many planned and under construction in L.A.’s South Park neighborhood, an area where until recently, only the 32-story William L. Pereira–designed Occidental Life building from 1968 towered above surrounding warehouses and commercial buildings. That has changed rapidly over the last three years as nearly two dozen towers have been proposed or completed along the north-south Figueroa Corridor nearby. That includes the troubled Oceanwide Plaza project by CallisonRTKL that recently halted construction due to murky finances and potential links to an ongoing political corruption scandal. The Sky Trees LA project will join a growing east-west spine of towers set to rise perpendicularly to the Figueroa Corridor around 11th Street. A timeline for the project has not been announced.
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Rats in Government
L.A’s typhus outbreak spreads from the streets to city hall
Los Angeles’s homelessness crisis has quite literally reached the offices of City Hall. In recent weeks, a typhus outbreak that has been tied to the explosion of encampments around the city has migrated into the building via flea-carrying rats. The Los Angeles Times reported that at least one city employee had possibly contracted the disease while at work, and many others have spotted rodents around the premises. Apparently, L.A’s City Hall is plagued by a stubborn rat infestation. According to The Times, rats have been spotted at various city-held events, including a Halloween celebration last year during which a rat was observed gnawing on a decorative pumpkin. The rats have been observed living in office plants around the complex while fleas have infested the City Hall carpets, as well. City Council President Herb Wesson recently moved to investigate how much it would cost to have all of City Hall’s carpets removed and replaced with some other type of flooring. Wesson has also launched a review of the complex’s office plants to deduce which ones are most hospitable to the rodents. Wesson has implied that the ongoing demolition of the Welton Becket–designed Parker Center nearby could also be a potential source for the increase in rats around City Hall. Health officials across the state have been battling various disease outbreaks—including a deadly Hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego—that have proliferated as the number of unhoused Californians has skyrocketed in recent years. Los Angeles County officials declared a typhus outbreak in Downtown Los Angeles. A 2018 point-in-time count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found that 31,285 Angelenos were living outdoors across the city.
Weekend edition: The Superbowl, scandal in L.A., and more
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! Everything you need to know about Super Bowl LIII’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium In preparation for this Sunday's Super Bowl LIII, here's everything you need to know about Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, designed by HOK. Work stops on one of L.A.’s biggest construction projects One of L.A.'s largest construction projects, Oceanwide Plaza, is involved in a sprawling corruption scandal, and work on the building was recently stopped. OLIN designing a 400-acre waterfront park for Southern Indiana OLIN has been tapped to design a new 400-acre park along the northern shore of the Ohio River in southern Indiana. Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects renovates and expands Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects completed a 16,350-square-foot expansion and renovation of the Charles Moore–designed Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth. Stay warm, and have a great weekend!
Super Bowl, Super Structure
Everything you need to know about Super Bowl LIII's Mercedes-Benz Stadium
On Sunday, all eyes will be on Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new arena that, less than 18 months after opening, is hosting the biggest sporting event in the nation: Super Bowl LIII. The National Football League (NFL) championship game—this year between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams—will be played with an architectural backdrop unlike anything in the world. The $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the most sustainable sports facility on earth. It is LEED Platinum and the only stadium of its kind with a kinetic, retractable roof. Designed by HOK in collaboration with BuroHappold Engineering, the building broke ground in 2014 and officially opened in August 2017 during the Atlanta Falcons’ pre-season. The sculptural structure replaced the 25-year-old Georgia Dome which was demolished the previous month. Ahead of the game this weekend, here’s everything you need to know about the 2-million-square-foot Mercedes-Benz stadium: Situated in downtown Atlanta, the Benz (as locals call it) houses 71,000 seats for NFL games and 32,456 seats for Major League Soccer games. It features a motorized scrim attached to the roof structure that can cover several sections. Designed to emulate the Pantheon in Rome, it features a semi-transparent retractable roof that’s nicknamed “the oculus” that lets sunlight into the interior. Bill Johnson, design principal of HOK’s Kansas City office, said this “literal out-of-the-box” thinking was what won the over Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank who bankrolled the project. “We wanted to move away from the typical square roofs you see on most stadiums and come up with something that created energy in the middle,” Johnson said. “The vision was that the opening would create a very tiny pinpoint of light on the Falcons’ logo at the 50-yard line, and as the roof retracted, the spotlight would become bigger and bigger.” The stadium’s kinetic roof consists of eight, 200-foot-long triangular “petals” made of lightweight ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene). These petals are fixed to 16 individual tracks that can move at different speeds. The Benz now holds the record for the largest application of a single ETFE membrane in the world at 143,000 square feet. The angular facade of the Benz consists of wing-like sections made of insulated metal panels that wrap around the bowl. As a nod to the swooping wings found on the Falcons’ logo, these sections overlap one another and create a feeling of movement on the exterior. The base of the building features a floor-to-ceiling glass curtain wall that lets light into the facility during the day and serves as a 16-story panoramic window to the city. To Johnson, the success of Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been its ability to create social experiences for visitors. “Fans' tastes have changed and people want a big, game-day experience,” he said. “Some of it is driven by social media, and some of it is driven by younger fans who want to get up and move around throughout an event, gathering together and watching things from different angles.” Several aspects define the Benz as ultra-green. It’s powered by 4,000 photovoltaics, including an array of solar panels designed as carports. Alone, these generate 617 kilowatt-hours of energy each year for the stadium and the surrounding neighborhoods. According to Johnson, up to 10 NFL games can be powered with this amount of energy. Additionally, underneath the stadium is a 600,000-square-foot cistern that can hold up to 2 million gallons of rainwater. Johnson said the intervention has helped decrease flooding in this area of Atlanta, while simultaneously providing irrigation for local trees. One of the most impressive features of the Benz, according to Johnson, is the 360-degree halo scoreboard that wraps the oculus. It stretches 1,075-feet-wide and six stories high. Over 4,000 miles of fiber-optic cable support the ring-shaped screen, as well as the 2,000 televisions, and other technology found in the building. While this is the first time the Benz has hosted a Super Bowl, it’s the third time Atlanta has won the bid in 25 years. The city put out a proposal midway through the construction of the new stadium. Post-opening, its first big test came last month when it played host to the 2018 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The college playoffs will come back to the Benz in late December and next year, it will host the NCAA Men’s Final Four. For more, check out this timelapse of the Benz's build-out courtesy Earthcam.
Gondola With The Wind
BIG proposes gondola to connect Oakland A's stadium to public transit
Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has unveiled renderings for a proposed gondola line that could link downtown Oakland, California, with the firm’s proposed baseball stadium development for the Oakland Athletics on Howard Terminal. The proposed gondola line would bridge a 1.3-mile gap in transit access between the Bay Area Regional Transit (BART) system that stops in downtown Oakland and Jack London Square, a site adjacent to the new development. The link is projected to serve up to 6,000 individuals per hour and will take roughly three minutes to make the trip. The proposal has come to light as the A's and BIG work to assuage local stadium-related concerns, which include lack of transit access to the site and preservation issues for the existing Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which will be effectively torn down for the project. The new renderings show a conventional gondola system running above the streets of Downtown Oakland. The elevated line will ferry passengers above the street and between the buildings that line the route while picking up and dropping off at raised stations with curved metal and wood walls. Gondolas are having a bit of a moment in American transit planning circles, as two efforts are lifting off in Los Angeles and in other cities. In L.A., a recent proposal to build a gondola line linking the city’s Union Station with Dodger Stadium has gained momentum. A second proposal to build a gondola line to connect various parts of the city to the Hollywood Sign has also gained notoriety as local officials move to accommodate a recent uptick in foot traffic to the remote mountainside sign. Plans for the Oakland gondola are being developed in tandem with the stadium proposal, which calls for new residential, commercial, and cultural programs around the baseball stadium. If all goes according to plan, the new stadium and gondola line could be up and running as soon as 2023.
Swedish retailer Hem gets a festive courtyard for its first U.S. showroom
With spring weather just a few weeks away in Southern California, San Francisco–based Endemic Architecture has completed a courtyard installation for design brand Hem’s first U.S. showroom. Hem is known for partnering with rising designers for its collections of bespoke furniture and design accessories, a tradition the Stockholm, Sweden–based brand has extended to its new West Coast headquarters. Hem previously occupied a pop-up shop at the Row location of local retailer Poketo. The new showroom in Downtown Los Angeles is a collaboration with vintage wood floor manufacturer Madera designed to “celebrate [Hem’s] immersive and collaborative nature…through the layering of colorful graphic shapes,” according to a press release. Endemic’s design includes a site-specific installation that combines graphic patterning with bright colors that wraps the floor and walls of the courtyard. The installation, dubbed Confetti Courtyard by Endemic, is reminiscent of the office’s Confetti Urbanism installation that was installed last year at the California College of the Arts campus in San Francisco. Like in the previous design but at a much smaller scale, the courtyard is demarcated into zones by bright patterns and color blocks. For the installation, yellow, green, white, and pink squares are arranged throughout the courtyard while peripheral bits of paint—shaped like squiggles, rectangles, and dots—float around the space and wrap the courtyard walls. The zones, according to the designers, are perfect for arranging sets of outdoor furniture and for creating different social zones when the courtyard plays host to parties and other social gatherings. The showroom is now open to the public. For more information, see the Hem website.
Construction on one of the largest projects under construction in Downtown Los Angeles, Oceanwide Plaza, has ground to a halt, according to The Los Angeles Times. The unexpected stoppage comes as the three-tower, CallisonRTKL-designed hotel, shopping, and residential complex was heading toward a mid-2019 completion date. According to The Times, the developer, a publicly-traded Chinese conglomerate known as Oceanwide Holdings, has indicated that financing troubles are behind the construction delay. According to a statement, Oceanwide is currently working to shore up the project’s finances and expects to start construction again in one month. More ominously, however, it’s believed that the project is somehow entangled in an ongoing political corruption probe that has scandalized the Los Angeles political establishment. According to The Times, federal investigators have inquired about the Oceanwide project in relation to possible crimes including bribery, extortion, money laundering, and kickbacks that could potentially involve City of Los Angeles officials and other development executives. No one has been formally arrested or charged in the investigation, however, and several other developments are also facing inquiries from federal authorities. The FBI raided the home and offices of Los Angeles city councilmember Jose Huizar in December as news of the probe surfaced. In the weeks since, the investigation has grown as another sitting city councilmember and several officials tied to Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s administration have come under scrutiny. Huizar, who oversees much of Downtown Los Angeles and was a voting member on the city’s powerful Planning and Land-Use Management (PLUM) committee, was stripped of key appointments in the fallout from the investigation. While he sat on the PLUM committee, Huizar made several controversial decisions that included a critical vote against granting Historic-Cultural Monument status to the William L. Pereira–designed portions of the Times Mirror Square complex, the historic home of The Los Angeles Times. At the time, Curbed reported, Huizar referred to the Late Modern structure as “an ordinary example” of Pereira’s work that did not merit recognition. Huizar is also behind Pershing Square Renew, an effort that would scrape away Pershing Square park in Downtown Los Angeles designed byRicardo Legoretta, Laurie Olin, and Barbara McCarren. With exterior work on Oceanwide Plaza nearly complete and interior work started on the project, it’s unclear that a short-term work stoppage will have much of an impact on the project’s final completion. A statement from the developer indicates that if construction resumes in February the project should wrap up sometime during 2020.
A plan to bring congestion pricing to Los Angeles County has taken a tentative step forward, The Los Angeles Times reports. In an effort to reduce traffic while also raising funds for new mass transit projects, next month the board of directors for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) will take up an initiative to study the issue. The initiative, if approved, would allow the board to assemble a panel of experts to investigate how congestion pricing might work in Los Angeles County, where The Los Angeles Times reports nearly three-fourths of commuters drive to work. According to Metro, it could take up to two years to study possible congestion pricing plans. Metro’s consideration of congestion pricing comes as the transit authority gears up for its “28 by 28” initiative, a plan that seeks to bring over two dozen transformative transportation projects to fruition before the city hosts the 2028 Olympics. The 28 by 28 plan would build-out L.A.’s planned public transportation system as envisioned by the recent Measure M initiative. The 2016 measure raised county sales tax rates to partially fund system expansions to the tune of $860 million per year. That’s a sizable chunk of what’s needed to bring many projects to life, but ultimately not enough to have them completed before 2028, hence the need for additional funding. Metro is expected to tap federal and state funding sources—including California’s gas tax funds—to fill in funding gaps for projects that include a new transit route crossing the Sepulveda Pass, the completion of the Purple Line to Westwood, and a new transit line connecting Downtown Los Angeles with the southeastern suburb Artesia. Congestion pricing could help bridge the gap for the agency, however. According to The Los Angeles Times, a recent Metro report indicates that a per-mile tax on driving could raise $102 billion over ten years and that a fee to enter Downtown Los Angeles could bring in an additional $12 billion. Metro officials claim that congestion pricing could bring in enough new funding to lower base transit fares or even make the entire system free to ride. It’s possible that with the right congestion pricing plan, Metro could make transit more affordable and useful as it makes driving more expensive and difficult in tandem.
Los Angeles–area arts spaces are having a rough go of it lately. Just this week, two long-standing art and architecture galleries announced either immediate or planned closures. The Downtown Los Angeles–based Museum of Contemporary Art announced Wednesday that it would be shutting down its architecture and design galleries at the Cesar Pelli–designed Pacific Design Center (PDC) in West Hollywood. Though MOCA has occupied the space for over 20 years, MOCA board chairperson Maria Seferian gave few details in a press release announcing the move, saying simply that “the programming agreement between the two organizations has reached the end of its term.” Seferian added, “We are grateful for our partnership with the PDC ... and now look forward to consolidating and growing our exhibition activities, including presentations on architecture and design, at MOCA’s two Downtown Los Angeles locations.” The museum maintains its flagship, Arata Isozaki–designed location in Downtown Los Angeles’s Bunker Hill district and a Frank Gehry–designed outpost in Little Tokyo. MOCA recently came under the direction of Klaus Biesenbach, the former director of MOMA PS1 in New York City. Over the years, MOCA has exhibited the work of many artists and designers at the PDC, including Takashi Murakami, Catherine Opie, Rodarte, Jean Prouve, and Rick Owens, among others. The current exhibition on view, One Day at a Time: Kahlil Joseph’s Fly Paper, will close out the space on February 24. The news came just one day after Los Angeles Downtown News reported that the local artist–friendly Main Museum had abruptly closed down. According to the report, the museum’s top staff, including museum director Allison Agsten, left their posts in late 2018. The museum is temporarily located in a storefront in L.A.’s Old Bank District as plans for an artful expansion by Tom Wiscombe Architecture (TWA) were supposedly underway. A reason for the museum’s closure has not been stated. The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) also closed its doors last year following financial troubles and a long and expensive list of necessary building repairs. PMCA opened in 2002 as a non-collecting museum focused exclusively on California art and design from the 1800s to the present. The closures run somewhat counter to the actions of other local arts organizations like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Art and Los Angeles Philharmonic. In advance of a planned closure of its main William Pereira and Pfeiffer Associates–designed flagship, the museum announced its intention to open several satellite locations across the city, including a pair of art spaces in South Los Angeles. The L.A. Philharmonic, on the other hand, is pushing forward with its own expansion to Inglewood, where Gehry Partners is designing a new headquarters for an associated youth orchestra.
A Subway, But For Cars
Elon Musk unveils prototype Boring Company tunnel under Los Angeles
After over two years of internet-fueled hype and fast-paced construction, erratic billionaire Elon Musk has unveiled a prototype tunnel outside Los Angeles that aims to test his far-fetched vision for a new urban transportation network below the region’s notoriously traffic-choked streets. The so-called Loop project is envisioned as a series of tunnels that could ferry private automobiles, and pods carrying pedestrians and bicyclists at speeds approaching 150 miles per hour. The tunnels, accessible from a network of parking spot-sized lifts, could eventually connect the city’s major landmarks and neighborhoods, according to a preliminary map unveiled last year. https://twitter.com/boringcompany/status/1075318894871470081?s=21 The Boring Company–backed test tunnel took shape beneath a neighborhood sandwiched between a municipal airport and Interstate 110 in Hawthrone, California, where several of Musk’s companies are headquartered. Although the test tunnel debuted with several key design changes—including the elimination of so-called “skate” platforms that private automobiles would ride on and actual travel speeds that barely approached 50 miles per hour—the bumpy debut was met with cautious optimism by observers, according to The Los Angeles Times. With a reported cost of about $40 million, the roughly mile-long test tunnel was built for a fraction of the cost of conventional subway technologies, though that is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, given the tube’s diminutive size relative to conventional transit routes, the fact that it was not built with unionized labor, and its overall reduced passenger capacity. According to The New York Times, Musk referred to the tunnel as “a real solution to the traffic problem we have on earth,” adding, “It’s much more like an underground highway.” The opening of the test tunnel follows the high-profile setback for Musk’s plan to build a second tube underneath the streets of the City of Los Angeles that came last month. The Boring Company is also working on a tunnel that would connect downtown Chicago with O’Hare Airport as well as a more modest loop that could potentially link L.A.’s existing subway system with Dodger Stadium.
With Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles moving forward with progressive land-use and transportation reforms last week, much of the conventional thinking behind how American cities work could soon be upended. As the converging threats of climate change, housing unaffordability, and pollution continue to hamstring the country’s urban areas, cities across the country are taking matters into their own hands by enacting bold but common-sense reforms in the face of federal and state inaction. For one, a groundbreaking comprehensive plan update in Minneapolis that would eliminate the city’s single-family zones took a step forward last week after two years of public debate and negotiations. The so-called 2040 Minneapolis Plan would make the city the first in the country to upzone all of its single-family residential neighborhoods to allow up to three dwelling units per lot. Under the 2040 initiative, the city will be able to re-establish a tradition of building what’s known as “missing middle” housing, the types of naturally affordable small- to medium-scale neighborhoods that make up the backbones of most American cities built before the 1950s. The plan is designed to break down racial and income disparities between neighborhoods in the city while allowing Minneapolis to absorb expected job and population growth over coming decades. Housing activists across the country are now looking to Minneapolis to see how the experiment plays out as efforts to enact similar policies pick up across the country, especially in Seattle, where a similar effort is gaining steam. In Oregon, a plan to eradicate single-family zoning in cities with 10,000 or more residents took a step forward this week. Aside from taking on exclusionary zoning, other cities, including Buffalo, San Francisco, and San Diego, are looking to eliminate off-street parking requirements to varying extents as they work to reclaim the enormous amount of space taken up by parked cars. In 2017, Buffalo became the first municipality in the country to totally eliminate parking requirements city-wide. The effort comes as part of a new zoning initiative that will bring what is known as a “form-based code” (FBC) to the city. As the name implies, FBCs typically regulate the overall geometries of urban areas by setting particular height limits, setbacks, and other design guidelines that can be followed regardless of use. The approach runs counter to more common use-based codes that carve cities up into monofunctional areas with residential, industrial, and commercial districts. FBCs are seen both as a way of re-establishing mixed-use neighborhoods while also creating contextual and preservation-friendly zones. With the update, Buffalo joins Denver, Las Vegas, and Miami, which have also recently enacted FBCs. Over in California, as the state’s new legislature takes up a series of bold housing reforms, San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer is one step ahead with a proposal to scrap parking requirements for transit-adjacent areas. A new proposal would eliminate required parking for housing located within 1/2-mile from a transit stop, a change similar to a state-wide effort that was derailed last year. The latest effort, according to the mayor, will be geared toward lowering the cost of building housing—a single parking stall adds between $35,000 and $90,000 in costs per unit of housing in the state—while also resulting in shorter and less bulky buildings. San Francisco has taken the proposal one step further by moving to become the largest city in the country to scrap parking requirements outright. City Supervisor Jane Kim put forward a measure this month to totally eliminate the requirement city-wide in an effort to bolster the city’s climate bona fides and help reign in housing costs. But don’t call it a “parking ban,” developers will instead be allowed to build parking up to a maximum threshold if they deem it necessary. The yet-to-be-approved initiative could go into effect next year. Nearby, Sacramento is working to enact a city-wide transit-oriented development plan that would limit drive-through restaurants and gas stations and lower parking requirements within 1/2-mile from transit stops in the city. Change is afoot even in car-loving Los Angeles, where an ambitious but currently under-funded plan to build 28 large scale transit projects by the 2028 Olympic games has prompted local officials to consider so-called “congestion pricing.” No official plan has been unveiled, but the Los Angeles Metro CEO Phil Washington last week presented several ideas that could potentially fill the funding gap, including requiring drivers to pay for traveling in some of the city’s most congested areas. To boot, Curbed reported that during a presentation to the Metro Board of Directors, Washington even proposed using the fees generated from congestion pricing to make Los Angeles the first city in the United States to offer free public transportation every day of the year.
Tweet Now, Cry Later
Elon Musk’s planned tunnel for L.A.’s Westside has been cancelled
After settling a lawsuit with community groups in Los Angeles this week, Elon Musk’s Boring Company has agreed to halt its plan to build a 2.7-mile test tunnel underneath the city’s Westside. The lawsuit was filed following a preliminary approval from the Los Angeles City Council that would have shielded the project from stringent environmental review. After the approval, community groups began to fight the project, arguing that rather than building a test tunnel, Boring Company was actually pursuing “piecemeal” approval of a larger transportation project in an effort to minimize the appearance of its impact. The group argued that the City of Los Angeles violated California law in its initial approval. The terms of the now-settled lawsuit are confidential, The Los Angeles Times reported but the parties involved issued a joint statement saying they had “amicably settled” the matter. The Boring Company has agreed to cease planning on its test tunnel and will instead, according to the statement, focus on a recently-proposed plan that would link Dodger Stadium with regional transit via a scheme similar to the one proposed for the Westside. The so-called Dugout Loop would link the isolated stadium to the regional Red Line subway. The plan is supported by Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and comes as a separate group works to create a gondola line connecting the stadium to Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles. Boring Company has been busy working on another test tunnel in the City of Hawthorne, where the company is headquartered. Musk recently announced that the test tunnel was complete and would open to the public in December. Musk also announced that he would be making good on an earlier promise to use excavated dirt from the tunnel to fabricate bricks for affordable housing projects. To push the initiative forward, Musk launched the so-called Brick Store where blocks will be available for 10 cents apiece to the public. The bricks will be free for affordable housing builders, according to Musk.